I’ve had this drafted for the longest time and I’ve been holding back on posting it because too many people have read it already. My phone kept reminding me about it though, so I thought, “What the heck?”
Two of the most interesting concepts in the study of addiction are those of licity and its inverse. It amuses me to no end that some addictions are pardonable, even encouraged; while others are sternly frowned upon. My friend, Michael, is constantly tapping – at a keyboard or at a touchscreen. Constantly pouring his thoughts out in poetry and philosophy. I don’t think his poetry is any good and I’ve told him so several times, but that doesn’t stop him. Would it be equally acceptable if he spent as much time with his hands in his briefs as he did tapping?
There are many of these soft addictions that we have labelled as passions now. Socially acceptable, socially encouraged in fact. It pisses me off that Michael can sit in public with his laptop and I can’t sit in that same place with a bottle of vodka. Especially as vodka is really the least of my problems.
I believe that societal acceptability and the mindless striving for political correctness erodes into people’s personalities. Depression and a suicidal ideation could very well be an integral part of a person’s definition, as could a high libido as a result of mania some other mental disorder. Even schizophrenia (colloquial Nigerian madness) could be part of who a person is.
I feel like I’ve not made you uncomfortable enough, a few of you might still agree with me so let’s shake things up a bit. Even paedophila is well within who a person is. Whether or not this person’s proclivities are socially acceptable or affect other people does not change the fact that it is an integral part of their identity. A drunk is a drunk in the deepest fabrics of his DNA. He can struggle all his life to suppress it to please people who would rather not see him sleeping peacefully in a gutter, but it does not change who he is. He will see a sweating can of beer and his throat will burn in anticipation.
If you had said a century ago that two men would one day be allowed to get married and adopt a child you’d have been thought to be not just a dissenter but also a fool. Is the fact that the definitions and limits of right and wrong as well as good and bad are constantly changing not an indication that we shouldn’t stick our necks out for their validity?
This long introduction is designed to ease you into my story; to help you to see where I’m coming from. I really do not expect it to work.
In my teenage years, I stumbled around looking for new highs. Michael once told me that it was all an attempt to fill up an unspecified emptiness and that made me laugh uneasily because I did not yet understand what was going on. I popped interesting looking pills, swapped water for vodka and tried as many strains of weed as I could lay my hands on through as many routes as were possible. More recently, someone else told me that I was probably clinically depressed in those years. This time, my understanding of myself and what was going on at those times had improved significantly. It was clear to me that I was growing into the person I am today and with every ‘mistake’ made, an important aspect of me was formed.
In my experimentation, I found that happiness is only attainable in short bursts for me and kept trying to get as many of them as possible; living on moments of borrowed happiness. Until one day a clarity like nothing I have ever felt before came upon me. The psychiatrists say that it was a psychotic break, but I don’t agree with them. They even have a name for my disagreeing with them, they call it a lack of insight. The universe spoke to me on that day and has been speaking to me regularly ever since. The puzzled looks on their faces the first time I made this declaration led me to ask if they don’t ever hear it too – If they have never heard the trees speak in the most melodious of voices, explaining life and its complexities and shedding light on everything.
I am strongly against the use of psychiatric medication because of their ability to alter the essence of a man, to take away what makes him who he is. I’ve asked my doctors what the difference between a man who finds his happiness at the bottom of a bottle and one who finds it in the light yellow pills they prescribe is. I have told them that I am content with happiness purchased in a liquor store or from a guy with bloodshot eyes and a perpetual half-smile. They preach social acceptability, using phrases like adjustment, addiction and relapse. They do not agree that those are sometimes just alternate routes to the same destination. They promise that their pills will stop the trembling, but I am not willing to risk chasing the voices away.
“Listen more to things than to words that are said. The water’s voice sings and the flame cries and the wind that brings the trees to sighs is the breathing of the dead”.
That was Michael’s favourite quote for a while, I’ve made a note to ask him who said it* when next we meet. I’d have looked it up myself, but they seized my phones after I unsuccessfully tried to get my dealer to deliver to the hospital and Michael to bring me vodka. I can’t wait to tell him that the wind and the trees, the flames and the water they all speak clearly to me now. They ask me what the point of all this is. The voices ask why I don’t just end this and become one with the universe while, at the same time, reminding me that I don’t have much longer to wait anyway and might as well just be patient. He’ll be so jealous.
Every morning, after the wind has whistled a good morning to me, one of the nurses comes by and asks if I’m still hearing the voices and offers me my medication again. I ask them to give me a drink instead and I laugh at the worried looks that they invariably give me. They do not understand, they never do. They speak in hushed tones about the drugs that I do not take and the psychotherapy sessions that I do not attend. I have tried to explain that I am not ready for the universe to stop speaking to me. I tell them that I am not ready for silence, especially now that I have heard music. I liken it to a man who has been blind all his life who, when he finally sees for the first time, we tell that vision is not meant for him.
The voices have been getting quieter lately and sometimes I even have to strain to hear them. The doctors have refused to allow me to leave, even after repeatedly telling them that nothing is wrong with me. I have been able to deal with the tremors and the vomiting, but I don’t think I will be able to cope with the silence. They do not understand and I do not expect them to. A man who has never heard music will say that anyone who dances is insane.
Tomorrow, there may be silence and the thought of it terrifies me. Today, however, I’m standing on the ward’s corridor and the leaves on one of the trees there are speaking. They are asking if I do not see the inherent beauty in my uncertainty about tomorrow. How it is a perfect metaphor for life itself and the more unsettling uncertainty about what happens when all the colours and sounds of the world as we know it fade into darkness and silence? This subtle segue into solipsism amuses me and I smile. If you were to look up like I did in that moment, you would have seen a cloud smiling back at me.
*Birago Diop .